Friday, August 27, 2010

A Falling Star

A Falling Star
Iceland Review
Recent events have shown that the Church of Iceland is a stagnated institution which takes itself too seriously and believes to have rights that supersede the law.

When Minister of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs Ragna Árnadóttir asked the church to make a nine-percent cutback to help the nation cope with the economic difficulties it’s going through, its executives flatly refused, saying they would only make a five-percent cutback.

Bishop of Iceland Karl Sigurbjörnsson has admitted that the church failed in the case of three women who accused his predecessor of sexual harassment in 1996.

Then Rev. Geir Waage at Reykholt claimed the confidentiality of priests is so holy that even if a person came to him confessing to having abused a child, he would not inform the authorities.

He underlined the importance of confession, forgetting that he is not a Catholic priest but a servant of the Lutheran Church where confession isn’t practiced.

He also failed to remember he is not above the law and is obligated to report child abuse. Seriously, who wouldn’t, regardless of his or her position?

Fortunately, no other priests have publicly admitted to agreeing with Waage on this matter and calls for his resignation have been made. The good bishop has had a word with him and Waage has agreed to comply with the law. But that was it.

Although Waage appears to have come to his senses, I find it alarming that a voice like his exists within the church and I’m disappointed the bishop didn’t sack him.

In regard to the three women, an apology was issued (although for some reason only two of the women were named), and the alleged sexual harassment will be investigated, however through a seemingly lengthy and overly complicated process.

Feeble attempts to make amends aside, the Church of Iceland is going through an existential crisis. There is a conservative and a liberal league within the church that are in conflict with each other, as became clear during the same-sex marriage debate.

With the highest-ranking members of the church seemingly belonging to the conservative league and not seeing how badly the church needs new blood, liberal views and fresh ideas, it is slowly turning into a dinosaur ripe for extinction.

Maybe the current controversy is the meteorite that will bring it on?

What all of this has brought forth is that people are crowding the National Registry and in ever-growing numbers are deregistering from the state church.

Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir said she has considered deregistering and revealed that she is in favor of a separation of the state and church.

The sooner the better, I say.

As a modern country, we shouldn’t have a state church. I have nothing against the church, per se, but as a non-Christian I find it unfair that my tax money is being used to pay the salaries of priests, especially those the likes of Waage.

It is much more sensible that those who are interested in being members of the church pay a membership fee which covers the cost of mass and other religious services, as the members of other religious organizations in Iceland do.

However, as Christianity is intertwined with our history and culture, I would agree to tax money being used to maintain some churches.

This process might become long and complicated, and as a reader pointed out, has to be thoroughly thought-through, so it is time to put the separation of state and church on the agenda of our parliament.

With Iceland claiming to be a progressive country, it is in fact strange that it has never been brought up with any seriousness.

Although most Icelanders are Christian, they often practice their religion privately—mixing it up with spiritualism that isn’t strictly Christian—and rarely go to mass unless there is a special event, such as Christmas, a baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral.

Others aren’t really religious but keep up religious traditions, such as having their children baptized and confirmed, without asking themselves why.

In Iceland, babies are registered to the religious association of their mothers at birth and so most people automatically end up being members of the state church.

I was a member of the state church until earlier this year without knowing it. I just assumed that since I hadn’t been baptized—which I thought had the purpose of welcoming children into a congregation—I wasn’t a member.

Recent events have made people realize what kind of an institution the Church of Iceland is and made them consider whether they want to be a part of it. Many have come to the conclusion that they don’t. Understandably.

I’d say the church has got some serious introspection to do and must come up with some form of reinvention to keep its remaining members.

It’s going to need them if it wants to keep existing after the state and church have been separated and it no longer has tax money to count on.

The wheels are in motion now, so it’s just a question of time. I spot a falling star.

No comments: